Gregg Berhalter marked his comeback as the USMNT head coach for a second cycle with a 3-0 victory against Uzbekistan in a friendly match. Timothy Weah netted an early goal, while Ricardo Pepi and Christian Pulisic sealed the deal in the later stages. The job was complete but it wasn’t pretty.
We take a closer look at how it all went down, the context of some of the key plays within the flow of the game, and what it means for the team going forward.
Team USA lineup (4-3-3): 1. Turner (GK) — 2. Dest, 4. Richards (McKenzie, 64′), 13. Ream, 5. A. Robinson (Lund, 81′) — 8. McKennie (Tillman, 81′), 6. Musah, 14. de la Torre (Tessmann, 35′) — 21. Weah (Aaronson, 64′), 20. Balogun (Pepi, 46′), 10. Pulisic
The location for Saturday night’s event is CityPark in St. Louis, a dedicated soccer stadium constructed for the MLS team, St. Louis City SC. However, the attendance wasn’t near full capacity. St. Louis native, Tim Ream, is declared captain of the USMNT for this match.
Both teams seem to have had a slow start. The U.S. has maintained possession for the most part, but Uzbekistan is effectively clogging up the midfield and ensuring they have numbers behind the ball.
Despite a cagey first three minutes, Timothy Weah gives the Americans the lead with a super strike in the fourth minute! Christian Pulisic skillfully delivers the ball into the penalty area, where Weston McKennie adeptly controls it. Despite facing pressure from four defenders with his back to the goal, McKennie maintains possession and passes to his Juventus teammate, Weah. The newly acquired Juventus wing-back, positioned as the right winger, releases a powerful shot that catches Utkir Yusupov off guard and finds the back of the net.
The U.S. is maintaining strong pressure in the attacking third, utilizing various channels to advance and constantly challenging Uzbekistan in every area of the field. A precise pass from Luca de la Torre from deep towards the back post meets the head of Weston McKennie, who flicks it across to Folarin Balogun. The newly-signed Monaco striker hits a header that unfortunately bounces off the post in the 16th minute.
The U.S. creates another near opportunity in the 20th minute as Christian Pulisic connects with his left-wing teammate Antonee Robinson, who makes an aggressive run forward. The Fulham full-back sends a powerful cross across the face of the goal, but unfortunately, there’s no one in position to convert it into a goal. Folarin Balogun was the closest, but he mistimed his run and slowed down just before the cross arrived.
Uzbekistan hasn’t posed much of an attacking threat, but in the 23rd minute, they nearly equalize in a surprising turn of events. Khojiakbar Alijonov makes an impressive solo run, maneuvering through defenders from the right flank, shifting inside on his left foot, and launching a powerful long-range shot that hits the crossbar! Both teams have now been denied by the woodwork once each.
Luca de la Torre and Oston Urunov collide while contesting an aerial ball. As a result, the USMNT midfielder sustains a bloody nose, and Urunov also requires treatment. De la Torre eventually leaves the field in the 33rd minute and heads down the tunnel. Although the Celta Vigo player doesn’t appear to be concussed, most of the focus is on his nose. Tanner Tessmann has replaced LDLT.
A tense moment for the U.S. defense in the 40th minute as they were forced to defend a set-piece following a free-kick conceded by Weston McKennie. They do a good job of closing down potential goal scorers, but eventually concede a corner after a deflected shot from Khojiakbar Alijonov. Tim Ream successfully clears the incoming delivery.
It’s not over yet, as Matt Turner comes up big at the end of the half, saving the USMNT in a one-on-one against Shomurodov! The Uzbekistan captain seizes the opportunity after taking the ball from Tim Ream and finds himself in a one-on-one situation, but he hesitates for too long before taking a shot. Turner narrows down the angle and makes a sensational reflex save.
The United States had a reasonably fair first 45 minutes, going into the break with a lead, but it wasn’t the dominant performance they were hoping for. The play seemed a bit lackluster and repetitive, with an excess of aimless crosses rather than capitalizing on our midfield strengths. It’s evident that Balogun is having a tough time, and even Christian Pulisic hasn’t been as effective against the Uzbek fullback.
Ricardo Pepi for Florian Balogun is the only halftime change.
Chris Richards finds himself with little choice but to foul Jaloliddin Masharipov on the break in the 49th minute, earning himself the game’s first yellow card. The subsequent set-piece from Uzbekistan proves to be threatening once more, but Umar Eshmuradov’s cross finds no one at the receiving end.
Similar to the first half, the U.S. is facing significant challenges as we approach the hour mark, both defensively and offensively. There’s a lot of last-ditch defending following careless turnovers in midfield, and the attack seems isolated and visibly frustrated.
In the 61st minute, we finally witness a glimpse of a chance as Tim Weah connects with a cross from Christian Pulisic. He tries to angle a header towards the far post, but unfortunately, his attempt lacks conviction, but it was understandable due to the ball being played behind his back.
Just a minute later, Matt Turner is called into action once again, making a save at his near post. Khojiakbar Alijonov breaks down the right flank, and despite the very narrow-angle, he manages to put in a decent effort. However, Turner covers his near post effectively, deflecting the powerful shot over the end line. Chris Richards and Tim Ream collaborate to clear the ensuing corner.
Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson come onto the field to replace Chris Richards and Tim Weah.
Sergino Dest came close to extending the lead in the 73rd minute, and it was a moment of high potential. He skillfully maneuvered through the penalty area, and just as the goal seemed within reach, his shot was deflected heroically! Dest has shown a commendable performance throughout this game, consistently pushing forward with dynamic overlapping runs.
There’s cause for concern for both the U.S. and Fulham as Antonee Robinson is down and receiving treatment in the 78th minute. It’s unclear what the issue is, but a substitution will be necessary. Robinson is a pivotal player for both his club and country, and any extended absence would be a significant blow.
Kristoffer Lund is set to make his U.S. debut, having recently had his one-time switch from Denmark approved. Additionally, Malik Tillman will come on to replace Weston McKennie.
Uzbekistan seems to be the more likely team to secure a late winner, with the visitors gaining momentum in the latter stages of the game. The U.S. has noticeably struggled in the second half, showing limited attacking threat.
Despite their threatening pressure, the U.S. has finally secured a second goal, thanks to a powerful finish from Ricardo Pepi! Brenden Aaronson delivers a cutback to the top of the penalty area, possibly targeting Sergino Dest a few steps behind. However, it ends up with Pepi, who unleashes a thunderous shot. While the shot is directed centrally, the sheer pace does the trick, slipping just past the fingertips of Utkir Yusupov, who might have got a touch but not enough to keep it out.
Within three minutes, the USMNT has a chance to make it three-nil as the referee awards a penalty. Malik Tillman deftly outplays a Uzbekistan defender at the top of the penalty area and is unmistakably fouled by Umar Eshmuradov.
Christian Pulisic steps up and confidently slots in the third goal for the Americans. His lack of celebration speaks volumes about the performance in this match – it simply wasn’t good enough. The referee signals the end of the match moments later.
This match served as a glimpse of what the USMNT might encounter in the expanded 2026 World Cup. While their performance wasn’t flawless, the ability to persevere and move forward holds significance. The next challenge comes in the form of a friendly against Oman on Tuesday, where we can anticipate some adjustments. Berhalter will have to ensure his team is well-organized right from the start.
Berhalter expressed satisfaction with how the team finished the game, especially with left-back Kristoffer Lund, who made a noteworthy contribution in his USMNT debut. Lund had previously represented Denmark at youth levels before filing a one-time switch to play for the United States.